Ten John Steinbeck Insights About Writing and What It Means To Be Human

“What good is the warmth of summer, without the cold of winter to give it sweetness.”— John Steinbeck

Steinbeck in the Oval Office with LBJ. (Public domain)

This past week I’ve been reading East of Eden by John Steinbeck. It’s a major Steinbeck work that I’m finally getting around to reading after having gone through a “Steinbeck phase” earlier in my life.

From his opening descriptions of the Salinas Valley one is dazzled by Steinbeck’s linguistic dream-weaving. His patient character development and vivid psychological profiles reflect the unfathomable landscapes of the soul that make us human.

The 1962 Nobel Prize in Literature was awarded to him “for his realistic and imaginative writings, combining as they do sympathetic humor and keen social perception.” Upon reading Steinbeck again, it’s easy to see why the Nobel Committee was sufficiently impressed with his writing and impelled to award him this prize.

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Here are some excerpts from his work that reflect his prose and perspectives on the world we live in. Much has changed since the Dust Bowl days of The Grapes of Wrath, yet our essential human and the struggles we face to maintain our dignity remain unchanged. In this sense, the great writers are timeless.

“We are lonesome animals. We spend all our life trying to be less lonesome.”
— In Awe of Words

“In every bit of honest writing in the world … there is a base theme. Try to understand men, if you understand each other you will be kind to each other. Knowing a man well never leads to hate and nearly always leads to love. There are shorter means, many of them. There is writing promoting social change, writing punishing injustice, writing in celebration of heroism, but always that base theme. Try to understand each other.”
— Journal Note, 1938

“In utter loneliness a writer tries to explain the inexplicable.”
— NYTimes

For man, unlike anything organic or inorganic in the universe, grows beyond his work, walks up the stairs of his concepts, emerges ahead of his accomplishments.
— Grapes of Wrath

There are no ugly questions except those clothed in condescension.
— East of Eden

It is a common experience that a problem difficult at night is resolved in the morning after the committee of sleep has worked on it.
— Sweet Thursday

No man really knows about other human beings. The best he can do is to suppose that they are like himself.
— The Winter of Our Discontent

To be alive at all is to have scars.
— The Winter of Our Discontent

No one wants advice, only corroboration.
— The Winter of Our Discontent

Literature is as old as speech. It grew out of human need for it, and it has not changed except to become more needed.
— Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech

Many more quotes could be shared, but these especially resonated with me. And they’re worth revisiting from time to time.

An avid reader who writes about arts, culture, literature & other life obsessions. @ennyman3 Look for my books on Amazon

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